Hills Audio Mastering Suite in Santa Fe, NM -  Photograph by Brandon Soder

What is mastering?  Mastering tends to be thought of as either a complex “dark art” or simply making the mixes louder.  In short, it’s not either!  At it’s core, the goal of mastering should be accenting the creative energy of the project, working to bring a consistency and flow.  There is a technical side to this: making educated adjustments to bring out detail and help the music translate to a wide variety of formats and playing devices.  But more importantly, music should move us.  I love to be immersed in an album or song, I want it to draw on my thoughts and take me on a journey in that moment.  Details like the amount of space between songs on an album that allow us to reset as the album flows, a long fadeout, bombastic first hit out of nowhere, a subtle breath or stray ghost note all make the experience for us as listeners.  Apparent or not, these details make an impact. At the core, this begins with inspired writing and performance.  After that, it's up to the engineers to maintain the vibe and character throughout the production.  As the final stage, the mastering engineer is charged to honor all that has come before and give the end listener the best experience possible.

Audio Mastering Rates

  • Albums and EP's - $13 per minute of album runtime

  • Singles - $65

  • Alternate versions - instrumental, vinyl premasters etc. - $65 for albums & EP's/$20 for singles

All pricing includes a few revisions, should you wish to change track order, spacing between songs, a volume or tone adjustment etc.  If you decide you would like to revisit and submit a revised mix, a $25 per song fee will apply. A 50% deposit is required to begin work on your project.  Once masters are approved and final payment has cleared, you will receive high resolution WAV files as well as 16 bit x 44.1 kHz CD quality WAVs, DDP set, and a custom DDP reference player.  Other formats can be made at your request.

Attended sessions are by appointment only and will be an additional charge of $45 per hour.  

Accepted Audio File Formats

High resolution WAV or AIFF are preferred.  To ensure the highest quality possible, please provide stereo mixes at the same sample rate in which they were recorded.  For example:  If you recorded your song or album at 24 bit x 96 kHz - I want a stereo mix at 24 bit x 96 kHz.  If you recorded at 24 bit x 44.1 kHz - I want a stereo mix at 24 bit x 44.1 kHz etc.  I have worked from cd quality (16 bit x 44.1 kHz) and various mp3 formats with decent results, but working from the original bit depth and sample rate ensures the best quality master. 

Accepted Delivery Formats

I can accept files delivered via the internet by services such as pCloud, Dropbox, Hightail, Google Drive etc.  You may also bring or mail Mac compatible flash drives or hard drives directly to Hills Audio in Santa Fe, NM.

Helpful tips to prepare your mix for mastering

  • Before submitting mixes for mastering, allow ample time to reference them on playback systems you are familiar with. Focus on the tone and general balance of the mix.

  • The stereo mix should be at the bit depth and sample rate at which the material was originally recorded--typically 24 bit or 32 bit float x 44.1, 48, 88.2 or 96kHz. I'm equipped to work with sample rates up to 192kHz.

  • Be careful adding fadeouts to your mixes. In most cases, fades are best handled by the mastering engineer. Throughout the mastering process, overall volume is likely to increase. If you’ve already applied a fade to your mix there’s a good chance it will sound too abrupt after mastering. If you have specific fadeouts you would like, simply provide notes or a reference mix in addition to a mix with no fade.

  • Check the start and end of your mix and make sure you're not cutting off an initial hit, sustained note or decaying reverb tail. You may want to listen carefully with headphones and when in doubt, just leave a few extra seconds of natural sustain/ambience before and after the piece.

  • During the final mix stage, carefully listen for stray or distracting noises - thumps, clicks, pops etc. I am able to remove many of these, but it is best handled at the mix level if possible.

  • Mixes should not be clipping (hitting zero or above on your mix output meter). Generally, mixes peaking around -3 db below 0 DBFS (or less) will work great. It's ok if there are a few peaks higher as long as no digital clipping occurs.

  • Please leave any digital limiting off your final mix! If you are mixing into a compressor and it is part of the tone/vibe of your mix, by all means leave it on, just leave some headroom in that -3 range.

  • Do not apply dither to your mixes.  Dithering is best applied as a final step in the mastering process when down-sampled files are created. 

  • Please provide the band name, album title, song order and any songwriting credits as they should appear. You can prepare these in an email message, Google doc or another Mac-readable format.

  • Have ISRC & UPC codes available if you wish to embed that information to your files prior to CD production.

If you have any questions I'm more than happy to speak on the phone or via email.  I prefer to take a little time in advance of a session to avoid wasted time and money!